The All-Star Baseball series is one that will always be included in the race for top baseball title. In 2002, many agreed it was High Heat Major League Baseball that took the crown in the category, with me included. Although being an excellent title, last year's version of ASB just didn't stand up as strong as High Heat and didn't display as stellar gameplay qualities as I would have hoped. With a slew of new baseball games being released this year, Acclaim knows they have their hands full with this project. Amongst the top contenders being shipped this year, there is World Series Baseball 2K3, High Heat 2004, MVP Baseball 2003, and All-Star Baseball 2004. 989 Sports and Midway are also planning baseball titles, but it appears the four aforementioned will battle for the playing time of fans around the country.
ASB continues to hold strong with numerous additions in this year's version. The presentation is one thing that truly stands out in the game, as it has a similar feel to NBA 2K3 and NFL 2K3. The menus overlay a locker room and office, with the camera swinging around in correspondence with what you choose. Prospects and other information can be found in your notebook on the desk, with the schedule hanging on the wall in the locker room. The experience during this portion is extremely smooth, and Acclaim can really be proud with the strides they have made. Every thing is free flowing and the visuals are beautiful.
In terms of graphics and gameplay, the game does exhibit many of its previous features. There isn't too large of an overhaul, with basic functions being the same and visuals shown in similar fashion. There are more noticeable shadowing techniques, but that is about it for graphics. As you'd expect, the button layout has stayed the same; however, there are a different variety of cursors during fielding and batting that allow for more variation. Player animations are roughly identical, with a few tweaks here and there that aren't too noticeable. Sadly, it appears Acclaim has spent the most time on presentation, which although it is well received, I would've liked to seen a few more gameplay alterations to improve upon last year.
The standard Hall of Fame license is still present in the game, but Acclaim has even attained players like Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, and even some of the best Negro League players. Acclaim has created more than ten specialized rosters filled with stars from various baseball eras. This is one area that I'm excited about, as players of old can finally square off against their present day competitors.
The Franchise Mode is even deeper in ASB 2004, and the game is showcasing 50 playable reams, 75 stadiums, 200 uniforms, 20 unlockable teams, and an option for Spanish play-by-play. With all these additions it may prove to push the game ahead of its other baseball game rivals. The PS2 version of ASB 2004 will be released February 15, so expect to hear more information in the coming weeks.
1/4/2003 Matthew Stensrud